Antique engines inspire nano chip
2007 07 25
By Jonathan Fildes | news.bbc.co.uk
The blueprint for a tiny, ultra-robust mechanical computer has been outlined by US researchers.
The nano computer is inspired by Babbage's difference engine
The energy-efficient nano computer is inspired by ideas about computing first put forward nearly 200 years ago.
Writing in the New Journal of Physics, the scientists say the machine would be built from nanometre sized components, just billionths of a metre across.
Chips based on the design could be used in places, such as car engines, where silicon can be too delicate, they said.
"What we are proposing is a new type of computing architecture that is only based on nano mechanical elements," said Professor Robert Blick of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the authors of the paper.
"We are not going to compete with high-speed silicon, but where we are competitive is for all of those mundane applications where you need microprocessors which can be slow and cheap as well."
In addition to high-temperature automotive applications, Professor Blick envisaged nano mechanical chips being used in everything from toys to domestic appliances.
Mechanical computers are nothing new. The remains of a 2,000 year old analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism were discovered in Greece in 1902.
And during the nineteenth century, English mathematician and engineer Charles Babbage designed various steam-powered mechanical computers.
His "difference engine", for example, consisted of more than 25,000 individual levers, ratchets and cogs and weighed more than 13 tons.
Although none of his designs were ever finished, recent reconstructions by London's Science Museum show they were capable of carrying out complex calculations.
The US team's proposal owes a debt to these early concepts.
"It's inspired by Babbage's ideas but these days we can scale it down," Professor Blick told the BBC News website.
"Now, we are able to process devices on the nano scale."
Work in progress
The team's tiny, hypothetical number-cruncher could be built out of ultra-hard materials such as diamond or piezoelectric materials, which change shape when an electric current is applied.
Unlike today's computers, which are based on the movement of electrons around circuits to do useful calculations, the nano mechanical computer would use the push and pull of each tiny part to carry out calculations.
The researchers are currently building the first elements needed for the computer, focusing initially on transistors, the basic switches at the heart of all computers.
Nano-mechanics could help chip firms keep up with Moore's Law
"We have demonstrated that a single element of these transistors work," said Professor Blick.
Simulations also suggest that it should be possible to build working circuits, he said.
"We are quite confident that in a couple of years this work will lead to commercial applications," said Professor Blick.
The American military is interested in a working device because unlike traditional chips, nano mechanical devices are not susceptible to electromagnetic pulses, which could be used by an enemy to knock out computing systems.
However, the team believes the chip's key advantage could be in keeping up with the chip industry's relentless pursuit of Moore's Law.
The proposition, articulated by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, states that the number of transistors on a chip could double every 24 months.
"The smaller you make your devices, the more electrons rush through and the hotter your device gets," said Professor Blick.
The first prototype parts are being built from gold and silicon
"In the not too distant future we will reach a thermal limit."
At that point, the heat will interfere with the function of the circuits and offset any efficiency gained by packing more transistors on to the chip.
The mechanical devices run much cooler than silicon and should therefore not suffer from the same problem.
But Dr Michael Kraft of the University of Southampton believes it will take a lot to persuade the silicon industry to abandon more traditional chip designs, such as the common circuit pattern known as CMOS.
"The industry has been working with CMOS for almost 40 years and there is already so much expertise and infrastructure," he told the BBC News website.
"I think, commercially, industry will continue with CMOS up to the point where it is absolutely not possible to push it any further."
However, he said, the nano mechanical approach did offer certain benefits that could lead to hybrid chips.
"They consume less power which is more and more important because most computers are mobile these days," he said.
"The battery is the big bottleneck, so anything that reduces the power consumption is a real advantage."
Article from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6912023.stm
The wheels of Greek astronomical science
Education and the Computer
Ancient Moon 'computer' revisited
Nano-propellers sent for a spin
Nanogenerator provides continuous power by harvesting energy from the environment
The Electron, Nanotechnology, and Solar Power
Douglas Mulhall - Nanotechnology, Our Molecular Future
Chips push through nano-barrier
Nanotech promise for global poor
Hundreds of firms using nanotech in food
MIThril, the next generation research platform for context aware wearable computing
Latest News from our Front Page
Pre-historic tokens used in conjunction with cuneiform
2014 07 22
An archaeological dig in southeast Turkey has uncovered a large number of clay tokens that were used as records of trade until the advent of writing, or so it had been believed. But a new find of tokens, dates from a time when writing was commonplace – thousands of years after it was previously assumed this technology had become obsolete.
Are immigration opponents Nazis?
2014 07 22
It seems the usual suspects are calling anyone who opposes unlimited immigration to be a "Nazi". The Left seems to be in constant fear of "Nazis" that lurk in public policy discussions and I assume under their beds. If you oppose any Leftist position, you are a.... take a wild guess...wait for it.... a NAZI! Tim Wise recently went ...
What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine?
2014 07 22
Exclusive: The U.S. media’s Ukraine bias has been obvious, siding with the Kiev regime and bashing ethnic Russian rebels and Russia’s President Putin. But now – with the scramble to blame Putin for the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down – the shoddy journalism has grown truly dangerous, says Robert Parry.
In the heat of the U.S. media’s latest war hysteria – rushing to ...
Oh, Great: Robots Are Set to Conduct National Security Clearance Interviews
2014 07 22
Advancing a career in the US government might soon require an interview with a computer-generated head who wants to know about that time you took ketamine.
Psychologists at the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) are developing an interview system that uses a responsive on-screen avatar for the first stage of the national security clearance process.
Initial screening for a variety ...
Is Anything on the Internet Real Anymore?
2014 07 22
Is there anybody…out there?
I promise I’m a real person asking this question and typing this article…but beyond that, I can’t promise much else about anything you or I see on the Internet.
This article on ZDNet, “GCHQ’s dark arts: Leaked documents reveal online manipulation, Facebook, YouTube snooping,” confirms — beyond a shadow of any possible doubt — that a barrage of ...
|More News » |